Postmodernist Plurality and Chechen Issues in Post-Soviet Cinema

Andrei Khrenov, New York University

The representation of the Chechen war in Russian cinema of the last decade can be analyzed only with a special attention to the unique co-existence, constant dialogue and mutual self-negation of the two cultural paradigms of this transitional period—modernism and its successful alternative, postmodernism.

Postmodernist cultural paradigm holds that historical origins and values of "modernism" are immanently alien to the natural flow of life and to the unique individuality and freedom of the human being—it poses itself as a repressive force. "Modernist nightmare" (Terry Eagleton) with its instrumental reason, strong ethical issues, totality fetishism and hierarchy of the cultural values is now being gradually replaced with postmodern chaotic plurality, a weird mosaic of seemingly incompatible styles, codes and conventions, especially in representing the "Other."

Postmodernism claims that chaos is more human than any order/structure; every organized discourse, like every "common truth", suppresses individual and the mode of thinking; an established scientific model of the Universe with its specific laws has nothing to do in common with a transitional, volatile and ever-changing reality which doesn't distinguish between normal and abnormal conditions; any hierarchy is nothing but a form of violence and domination of the "high" over the "low" in those coordinates. Hence the purpose of art is a free self-expression rather than a preaching; and therefore the demand for clear message/idea is but a dogmatic censorship.

One can distinguish the juxtaposition of those conflicting cultural paradigms shown through several cinematic approaches to the recent wars in Chechnya. Diegetic space in many of these films, like in reality itself, is revealed not through the military actions executed by the professional armies, these models of order/hierarchy, under the command of skillful experts according to the established strategic laws. However, through the controlled and at the same time clandestinely chaotic movements of the almost invisible local population.

Purgatory [Chistilishche] by Alexander Nevzorov explores rigid ethical dilemmas by appealing primarily to the modernist doctrine of reason and order, revealing the nascent nationalistic tales through the battle-duel of a Chechen warlord Israilov and Russian colonel Suvorov.

In this age of consumerist visualization, Sergei Bodrov, an author of Prisoner of the Mountains [Kavkazskii Plennik], a modern epic tale with the claims for all-embracing objectivity, strives to capture the wide variety of marginal but intriguing imagery of the Caucasus cannily marketing these images to Western audience.

Ethnic cohabitation with the "Other" is also evocated in The Checkpoint [Blokpost] by Alexander Rogozhkin, an intimate drama with touches of absurdity and magical realism. The free-floating, deliberately unorganized narrative of Time of the Dancer [Vremia Tantsora] by Vadim Abdrashitov is permeated with longing for an unattainable harmony in a situation of a cultural border between "triumphant" Occident and "defeated" Orient.

The last two films also demonstrate how European culture is given to us, the Russians, as a canonical value, an object of study and a life model, but it also given to the half of the globe as an object of negation, of freeing themselves from the authority of "whites and males." The Chechen issues in cinema, like in any other aspect of contemporary Russian life, show this unique status of modernity that reflects the delicate balance of the mentioned above conflicting paradigms.